SIBOS Day One – return to a new looking Singapore

By Ravi Patel

Ravi Patel is contributing to the Daily Fintech as Guest Author. He is the co-Founder and CEO of YoloPay, a Singapore-based mobile payment company developing payment solutions for families. Prior to this, he was a consultant and business strategist in the financial services industry.

Ed Note: I asked Ravi to cover SIBOS as a reporter as I was busy as a speaker/moderator and connecting with clients for Daily Fintech Advisers. 

SIBOS, the preeminent Financial Services conference organised by SWIFT, returns to Singapore after 12 eventful years. You may forgive many of the returning veterans (out of the estimated 8,000 attendees, a preliminary estimate) for not remembering too many local landmarks for much has changed; in both Singapore and not least the Financial Services Industry.

As a guest contributor to the Daily FinTech, I want to share some observations and themes that emerged from Day 1 of the conference, the most memorable being the use of the word “disruption”. (Please note that as a self-proclaimed “FinTech entrepreneur”, I have a bias to sessions on the future state of payments and digital innovation.)

The conference agenda seemed to cover the usual areas of payments, securities, cash management and trade, however, it did not take long until the word “FinTech” was bandied about referring to the new generation of challengers driving new innovation and growth. There seemed to be a serious desire for debate about the future business models for the industry whether it was ‘disruption’ or ‘collaboration’, need for technology or a revamp of culture, whether something new (e.g. blockchain) or a retrofit of the existing world (e.g. real-time payments).

Here are some of the key take-aways from Day 1:

1) “An emerging divergence.” There seemed to be a slight divide between the SIBOS loyalists and a small new generation, made visible not least by their attire (Ed, in past years suit and tie was mandatory for men and that was the practice for about 98% by my rough count). While the banks and traditional technology vendors set their stalls across the exhibition floor with lavish displays, Italian coffee machines and closed glass rooms for private meetings, the Innotribe section (Insights on innovation) was open, loud and most certainly over-subscribed.

2) “Going back to the drawing board on the business model.” There were multiple discussions on innovation across the different fields whether looking at new models, new entrants replacing the incumbents, new policies or regulations to improve service standards or some suggestion of collaboration. There was a fiery debate between FinTechs and Banks at the “Future of Money: A burning platform?” panel. A good example was regarding new online credit services leveraging new social data sources to make intelligent approvals and improve service delivery and inclusion for credit services. Such evolutions were suggested to be exciting and in some cases best delivered by startups with their single focus, but it was noted that many models were still untested through economic cycles.Would it be disruption or collaboration?

3) “Finding use for the Blockchain.” No FinTech conference in 2015 can escape the mention of the Blockchain and the sweeping potential to transform the financial services industry. Beyond the high level sensationalism, the panel “New kids on the Block(chain)” raised some good points about potential use cases for banks highlighting how trade invoicing could be effective, however clearing and settlement functions would not work due to privacy requirements. It was therefore very clear that a lot more investment was required to understand how to implement and operate the blockchain to improve the efficiency of the business operations and also the customer service levels.

Ed: this session was so overbooked that they created an overflow room connected by real time video and that too was standing room only. Many commented that Blockchain was top of the Hype cycle meaning that in a year we will be wondering how it disappeared so fast and then x years later we will all be using it even if most of us are not aware we are using it (like VOIP).

4) “APIs as a product.” Fidor Bank, Silicon Valley Bank and BNY Mellon presented some interesting examples of progressive banks opening public APIs as a new product offering to front-end solution providers with great advice on how to build and operate. A noteworthy consideration was the importance of a new developer to developer culture that will be front-line in financial services. It was suggested that this may be the strategy to survive and emerge successful in the next phase of digital banking, in addition to new regulations such as PSD2 which will require in any case for banks to have certain public APIs in Europe.

5) “Regional disparities are prominent.” In the context of real-time payments, it remained clear that the different regions were at different stages of evolution and faced different challenges whether looking at the USA, Europe, SE Asia, Australia or Japan. Such structural differences will remain to be a challenge for harmonisation and eventual optimisation. However, the locations have implemented or have plans to implement real-time payment systems with some markets paving the way forward, such as the UK’s Faster Payments system.

There were numerous other panels, workshops and meetings all fully attended throughout the course of the day covering the above and many more topics. Some sessions reached capacity and wouldn’t let more people in. While there is broad consensus of the need to innovate more in the financial services industry, given the significant changes in the consumer landscape, the technologies available and the regulatory environment, the debate is still on to explore what are the best ways forward. I’m looking forward for another 3 days. And I am sure there are a lot more deals to be made in those shiny glass offices.

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